Life Goes on Without Me (or You)

I was reading an article on a psychology blog about relaxation and it got me thinking about what it’s like working at an elementary school. I get so “self-important” sometimes that it raises my blood pressure and makes me way more stressed than I ever needed to be. In so many situations at work, there is no need for concern. So many times I have micromanaged things only to cause even more trouble for all of us. This isn’t to say I’m inept as a leader. Rather, it is to say I become a much more effective leader when I step away and realize the world goes on without me.

Sarah had a friend who died a couple days ago. We have both been in shock. He died in a fire with his two boys. His wife was able to save their 10 year olds daughter and the two are recovering with major burns and injuries. Why do things like this happen? It’s the age-old question priests get. I know better than to ask. I think answer is God wants us to know we are not in control. Maybe He wanted that family with him and thats why He took them to heaven … whatever reason we come up with to be okay with it the fact remains that there are 3 less people in the world. 2 less kids to play outside until the streetlights come on. The dad was a cook at a great restaurant. Now, there’s be no #7’s prepared until a new guy gets trained. I’m sorry to be morbid but there’s a lesson for us teachers here.

Get over yourself

Remember in that movie “Dead Poet’s Society” when Robin Williams shows the boys the old pictures of the students who were all dead? That scene is kind of what this post is about. I think we should reember we aren’t pulling any strings in the universe of our school. We are replaceable. We are expendable. Getting away from the stress of work is good for us. It’s ironic how leaving ot all behind sometimes actually improves our contribution. So consider yourself less important than you do right now … I’ll do the same and let’s see what happens. I know it will be something very good.

Live In the Now

In the past few years I have come to see the wisdom in living in the present. Three reasons to live in the now are:

  1. Enjoyment: There is joy in the now
  2. Clarity: You can think clearest in the now -and-
  3. the Anxiety Vacuum: There is rarely any anxiety in the now.

First, enjoyment. There’s an old story psychologists tell about the child that has too many toys in front of him. The child will take a while to find one to play with and sometimes never pick one at all. This is true with us and our fun stuff in life. We have things on our mind we used to have and that we wish we had. These can be material or immaterial things as well. Of course, unless it’s in the now in front of us, it is all immaterial.

By limiting our choices of what to do with our thoughts, emotions and time to the now, we make enjoying life simpler. In the psychologists story, the same child when given only 2 or 3 toys to play with selects one more quickly and seems to enjoy himself much more in the limitation of choices. This is true with us when we limit ourselves to enjoy our choices in the now. All you have as a choice right now is all you will ever have. Make your choice and enjoy!

Second, clarity. On the heels of enjoyment in the child analogy, comes clarity. When the now is the only place to look, things become easier to see and easier to choose. If I am worried about what the past might say or what the future might think all the time, I am far more laden with concern than if I am concerned only with the now. Animals are 100% in the now. Think about them them at the zoo (if you’ve ever been, if not try the Discovery channel). They yawn and bask in the sun without a care in the world, until they become hungry or feel another need arise. Animals can teach us what living in the now is. There is still some chance for confusion, but living in the now enables the most clarity of perspective as opposed to dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Are you having troubles now? Chances are the answer is no. Troubles yesterday, tomorrow? Maybe. So why dwell on it. Let me let you in on a little secret you may not have thought about . . . **tomorrow will be today in a few hours and this stuff applies the same then!**

Last, the anxiety vacuum. I have heard it said that anxiety is largely made up of thoughts about the future and the past. When we STOP in life and meditate on the now, we inevitably realize that we have it better than we thought. The impending things disappear because they are not part of our now reality. The regrets and hard lessons of our past fade away when we focus on the hour, minute, second we are now in. Living in the now is an anxiety vacuum. If you can make it happen mentally, you might not need that medication you’ve been prescribed. Of course, sometimes it is medically necessary but why take it if living in the now can solve the problem of your anxiety?

I can anticipate rebuttals to my post as people in general seem to be afraid of living in the now 100% (including me!) but that doesn’t mean we should ignore its value. Of course we should consider the past. It has been said that “those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.” Of course. This is what separates us from the animals. But we should not forget that we are indeed animals ourselves and that with this logical ability to analyze come the debilitating temptation to OVER analyze. Of course we should plan for our future as best we can. It’s been said as well that “if you fail to plan you plan to fail.” I agree wholeheartedly. But I would counter with the fact that we can better plan while living mentally in the now without fear of failure in the future. Our “news” will automatically become our pasts and future in turn. Learning to master the now will translate each way.

As a writer I’m trying to persuade you of something, always, be it large or minuscule. I hope by laying out the enjoyment, clarity, and anxiety vacuum above about this mindset that I have persuaded you to take a risk and live in the now. There’s too much fun to be had today.

Road of Life: a Road to Mastery

I realize that my life consists of finding new activities and then mastering them. For example, at 7 or 8 years old I picked up a guitar. I am certainly not a virtuoso now but I have dedicated countless hours to understanding and finding a level of mastery over the instrument. As a point of fact I have probably spent more time studying and mastering the guitar than I have anything else in life. Later in life came dating. I failed at it miserably. The very few times in my teens and twenties that I had a chance to go out with a girl, I said all the wrong things and usually repelled the female who was with me. But I studied it and read books (The idiots guide to relationships) etc.

Eventually I was in a steady relationship that lasted over a year. When that one fell apart I had a little more mastery and so on until I met my wife. We both work at marriage, it takes two. In my opinion, she and I both have gained a knowledge of marriage and relationships and that has kept us together. The guitar, relationships, blogging, writing reviews, getting paid to blog, relaxation, maintaining a healthy diet, … these are so many more human activities are the things I seek to master. Tomorrow there are sure to be new challenges. The meaning of life to me is to seek out new things and master them as best you can. If that sounds hard, you don’t understand me correctly. There is triumph through difficulty and there is nothing like the joy of mastery. Now that I have had this revelation about my life, I suppose it’s good I’m a blogger so I can leave behind some of these breakthroughs I make.

My Life as a Slightly Slower World Tour

The 4 years 1988-1992 were my rock and roll years. I was a singer/songwriter and guitarist trying to make music for money. My vision was simple, to make the music on the other side of the records I listened to growing up. Still, becaise I knew others who achieved that goal, it allowed me to see that goal wasn’t everything. In fact, I learned that all paths really lead us to eat foods of the world and find our own form of influence.

I met and worked with Dave Sharp of the Alarm and grew up as friends with Gwen Stefani of No Doubt. Both people I know personally and I thought they had achieved my utmost dream of going on a world tour. I don’t recall them being any better off than me. You can only sleep in one bed every night. You can only put your leg through one pant leg at a time. Now, so many years later, I realize that in a way I started my own world tour in my mind back then in 1988. I didn’t sell any t-shirts but it was hugely successful. It goes on still today.

For example: when my wife takes me to the Thai place and I try a yellow curry for the first time, or any variation on that. When I go on a small local vacation it is like the Bahamas for me. I don’t write much music these days but when I pick up my guitar and play my old riffs to an empty tall ceilinged room, I am enjoying all the great stuff a world tour can offer. I see that now. The good news is I didn’t have to ever go on a world your to see the influence of my teaching, my fatherhood, my love for my wife. I can see that is all happening now without a tour bus, without millions of dollars. When someone said “the best things in life are free,” she/he was correct. You can have them here at home in your own front yard or on a tour bus to somewhere seeking something that is fleeting and maybe even, not real.

Vulnerable Journey

I’ve discovered something about myself in the past week that is really liberating. While it may sound simple to some, I have learned that it isn’t the end product that is the most important part of my teaching. I know this and yet that has been my focus for most of my years on the job. The most important things are moments every day along the way in life’s classroom. While I’ve been aiming at touchstones and measuring progress by them, the moments have rippled by often unnoticed. That’s where the vulnerable part comes in.

Living in the moment is by its nature a vulnerable thing. A master craftsman can teach with a scant system. I’d like to think I could present a lesson with nothing more than a chalk slate. Of course, technology can be helpful. I have learned that the bravest part of teaching is walking into the unknown. If I planned everything, the lessons wouldn’t be as effective. I am learning an art and I can see that now. It is not about appearances but rather connections with learners who need my teaching desperately. When they look back at 4th grade, they won’t care about any awards their teacher won. They will remember his willingness to make himself vulnerable, willing to fall and get back up again to meet them where they are in every moment.

The River

I’ve found there are too many duties in life. Whether it be a job, cleaning the house, putting in a yard, or even getting to the doctor when you’re sick, we are constantly inundated with demands. This can take a toll on our productivity and health levels. I started practicing meditation about a year ago in varied forms. Now, I do a textbook form of the Relaxation Response twice a day and it allows me to mentally slow down and analyze life’s rich demands. Prioritization is important but it’s also good to imagine your life as a river. The river just flows. Even as it sleeps, or you might say it never truly sleeps, the river flows to the sea somewhere far away. Until our river passes over the bend (when we die) we can never increase or decrease our flow speed. All we can do, thankfully, is “be the river.” When we make goals and achieve them, we are flowing. When we fail, we are flowing.

We will always have priorities and responsibilities vying for our attention, but we must never forget the reality that our life is a river that we have very little power to change. You might call this concept a surrender and it is. I also see it as an empowering liberation. Once you realize you cannot alter much in your life, you can celebrate what you have “as is.” When your life begins to seem like roaring rapids, you can slow down and accept that life is having its way with you. All you need to do as a river is pay attention to where you are going. I think you’ll see more beauty than you ever imagined as you let the river run its course. I also think you’ll find it in places you never thought to look, as well as in the usual focal points. When you don’t slow down and let things flow, you are blind to the beauty of life.

To my Niece Upon High School Graduation

I hope none of these sound bossy 🙂 You are a great kid and some of these advices probably aren’t necessary but all are true to me. I wish someone would have told them to me at your age. Anyway, I wasn’t around for your upbringing much for the past 10 years or so but I definitely think you or any college kid would benefit by these pieces of advice. I’m not sure what the high school diploma requirements are but you graduated so you’re off to a great start! Enjoy the next chapters of your life. FIRST: School – Don’t think you are missing out if you miss partying. Everyone in college has to study the same amount. If you miss a party you will be more focused and less likely to flunk out (as 46% of your graduating class year will). A little celebrating is fine but … Get school done, there’ll be time enough for partying when you have the best career. The main reason I am able to support my family (cost wise) is because of my college not because of lame parties I went to.

Work – Learn a way to “leave work at work.” Avoid socializing too much there. It is your means to an end. Making a couple good friends at work is fine but you will save yourself a lot of trouble making solid boundaries between “IRL” and work. This is true when you start your career but also while in a part or full time job in college. Last, look into a good online school. They are showing up everywhere these days.

Fun – Do fun things! These keep your smile real and your bones healthy. Avoid alcohol or drugs to have fun. Many kids nowadays have bought into drugs and they will be sorry. I’ve been to some of my friends’ funerals who died of drugs.

Love – LOL. Me? Giving advice on this? Well yes. Enjoy time with guys but remember people come and go out of your life while in college. “Hold on loosely” is a good mantra. Treasure your experiences, I encourage you to have them. Be smart and all that. It is the experiences of dates and getting to know someone that you will call upon when you are one day married. I am so grateful for the experiences I’ve had with love. This is because they helped me understand what a relationship is. After nearly 10 years of marriage I am still working to figure that out.

Other – Spirituality is highly over rated. In fact, it makes some people insane. My advice is to spend quiet time with yourself on a daily or weekly basis. Keep a journal. All the religions of the world have still yet to show us proof what happens after 80 years or so when we die. For that reason, ignore the pamphlets they give you as you’re walking across campus and live with joy within those 80 years. Replace the word “spiritual” in your life with “relaxation” and “peace” and you’ll be better off than anyone in any church. The most important focus a young woman can have is finding a good career after college. I know you will knock em dead!

All the best kiddo, I love you.

Uncle Damien

Power of Mantra

Having a mantra, or saying to repeat, as you start your day can really help get you in the mindset to win at life.

I’ve been writing about psychology and inspiration here since December of 2006 and in the process I’ve done a lot of homework I love to share. Mark Twain once said: “When I turned 20, I was amazed at all my father had learned in ten years.” Our perception of the world is filtered through our point of view. If we have an open mind as we travel through life, we transcend much of the trouble around us. When we get older, we can’t just buy memory to become smarter or faster. We can however, adopt certain practices that make our memory more keen. One invaluable tool in keeping an open mind is to have a mantra. This can help toward a simple understanding of an often complex set of circumstances.

Remember when you were younger, about junior high age? You could run around all day: boys at the football field, girls at the mall or maybe the softball field. (Of course I don’t mean to sound like all women wanted to be at the mall but many I knew did). At any rate, physical activity back then had very few consequences. I would run 5-10 miles on the x-country team and have no soreness whatsoever the next day. Well, now fast forward to today. I can barely run a mile without needing to stop and gather myself. Part of that is my fault for not exercising enough. Another part of it is just plain aging. Even as a youngster; however, practice had its place. Running those hill workouts paid off when I won the races. Our minds need practice too. A mantra can be part of that life-changing practice.

A key to sharp mental acuity is reflecting on the way we feel about the world. Our mind processes things differently as it is accustomed to do. The good news is that as long as we practice the right mental things, we never need to suffer the way we do in our physical aging. In fact, if we stay mentally “worked out,” we can be more enlightened the older we get. Kind of cool eh? So, just to clarify the big picture here:

Physical Practice = Winning races/competitions

Mental Practice = Seeing the world the way it is.

One mental exercise we should engage in is the practice of having an open mind. Just like running one mile and skipping the rest of the week will not make a young runner any stronger, so we are made “mentally flabby” when we neglect this practice. The time this verb “practice” is most vivid to me is when I get angry or when I get disappointed or otherwise discouraged. It’s in those moments I can hear that inner psychologist on the couch in my mind say: “Calm down, this is what practice is all about.”

When and how to use a mantra to keep your mind open:

  1. When we are out of sorts it comes from 1 of 2 sources: a) Internal – we have a chemical imbalance happening and need food or medicine to balance it out -or- b) External stimulus has disagreed with us in some way. The first step therefore is to determine which source is bringing you down. For example: Would a glass of water help? Some peanuts? You make the call there. This step is kind of like a stop and regroup.
  2. The second step is to ACT to accept the cause of the problem. It could be your blood sugar or a person in your face. Either way: ACCEPT the cause for what it is.
  3. The third step is a mantra. A mantra isn’t a middle eastern mystery, it’s just a phrase that has good energy for you. Remember the little engine that could? His mantra was: “I think I can, I think I can.” You can use many mantras that already exist or make up your own. I really like the mantra: “Is that so?” Eckhart uses it and recommends it in his book. I recommend it as well.

Other things you could say are (for example): “That’s one way to look at it,” “This too shall pass,” etc. I know you are creative because you’ve read this far. I encourage you to pick a mantra, write it on a card and when you lose your peace in the day, read the card, say the card, BE the card. I think you will as I have that the mental and spiritual rewards are mammoth. Another interesting thing to look into is making your own acronyms.

When you exit a room of dissent and feel like you’ve made a contribution of peace, it’s one of the most powerful victories you can imagine.

The More You Learn the Less You Know, When You’re a Teenager

Teens need to understand that a project worth its salt takes work, time, and dedication. Not much is instant like a video game. The question is, how do we teach this with minimal pain.

Youth is the time for being risky, for being bombastic and loud. I can say that through my teens and twenties I was the loudest around, and often the most annoying. I would make my feelings known on any topic without holding back. Through that time I learned through trial and error that our perception can change on a given subject that we never imagined before. My son has a hard time seeing that truth, he’s 14 and I am 43. There’s a big gap of life lessons in there.At my age I am very aware of the fact that the facts may affect my view of something. In fact, they often do. My son is sure he can play a gig with his “band” that has only practiced once together.

He himself has been playing (according to him) 3 months. The band has practiced once. I will probably pay the $5 admission to the ASB show they asked his band to play at. I will hope for one of two things to happen: Either he will impress me with what one practice did or he will come to realize it is embarrassing to perform music when you have nothing to offer. As for now, he knows I am wrong and a mean old man for being so critical. I just want to see him be real and make the best art out of his life that he can. To have an influence, you have to have your act together. He may “know” that isn’t true now but the more he learns by experience, I hope he “knows” less than he does now and has a more open mind. And, of course as his dad, I am always open to be proven wrong.

Summer 2011 was a Time for Relaxation

Damien RileyThis has been one of my best Summers. We went to San Diego and saw the animals at Sea World do their flips for fish rewards. We took in the wonder of the Museum of Natural History and the Reuben H. Fleet Science museum. It was there we saw the IMAX images from the Hubble telescope. It was life changing. For me it is hard to look at those images and then accept that the mysteries of a god can be understood through a book. For me, that was significant.

We went to a few Orange County beaches: Laguna Beach, San Clemente, Balboa, and Newport. It was tranquil and serene watching my wife and kids laying out getting relaxed and thinking about how good we have it.

I have been able to genuinely relax this Summer, partly because I was focused on the value of that and partly because we had the money and the free time. I have been really pushing my stress levels to the limit and I need this Summer to remind myself that I can be still and foster the molecules in my body to come together and be strong again.

I’ve ordered my blogging job to where I have a schedule again. This will make me more productive. I know the type of writing I need to do and I intend to do it. Remember the value of relaxation before it’s too late. It will eventually hit through high blood pressure or shaky hands or other unwelcome malady. Take time to relax and your body will be strong to move toward your dreams.

You can see OC Beach Trip 2011 photos I‘ve shared in my album.